Mr. Wake

Are you understand?

Location: Kamakura, Kanagawa, Japan

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Bank Party

I went to a "bank party" on Friday. As far as unenticing descriptions of fun events go, "bank party" is up there with "eel fair", a promotion I saw at a Japanese grocery in New York. Don`t want too many people to come to your party? Bill it as a Bank Party.

This was a Start of Year gathering put on by a bank for its biggest customers. Pappa-san, and , the shacho, were invited. They both thought it would be smashing to have me come along to meet and greet and highlight the international nature of their company.

The first hour and a half was a lecture. There were about 300 attendees, all middle-aged men in suits. The speaker wore a jacket and turtleneck, marking him as an intellectual and most likely a university professor. I don`t know for sure what he talked about. But based on the slides and the liberal sprinkling of English loan words, I can make a guess: Everyone knows that Japan is a bunch of losers on the international scene (contrary to what the international scene frequently says about the Japanese, a lot of Japanese actually seem to think this). But look at these numbers. The GNP of Japan is much higher than that of most European countries. The GNP of Tokyo alone is about equal to France`s and twice that of Canada (which everyone knows are awesome international countries). Japan needs to wake up and get its act together to compete on the international stage (what the hell have they been doing?!). To do this we need to adopt certain American business tactics. "Innovation","Vision", and "Close Functional Teams" were all English words he used to describe the business techniques from the US of A. At my old company these words would be replaced with "Multiprise", "XML", "Laser focus", and "ROI". And of course it would be completely unsurprising to go to an American bank party and find the lecturer lauding the business strategies of the clever Japanese.

After the lecture there was a smoke break. Many had cancer sticks in their mouths before they left the lecture hall, and half blazed up in the lobby. No need to take it outside. Next, with the "bank" taken care of, we could get to the "party". Doors to another ballroom were opened (they`re still called ballrooms. 100 years from now no one outside of New Orleans will know why). Pretty girls in gowns and scarves made out of the same silky material flanked the doors and bowed in unison as people entered, saying irashaimase, welcome. If they had been replaced with robots no one would have noticed. Everyone had a letter on their name tags that indicated which section they were to stand in. Little tables were arranged with bottles of beer and glasses in each section. A series of buffet tables ran down the center of the room. After some brief spechifying, the girls in silky gowns flowed out to each little table, and we were treated with the rare but unmistakable sound of 100 forty-ounce beers being popped open. Tngk-fssss. Everyone poured everyone else`s beer, a long toast was made, and kampai. Time to get to work. I was introduced to a the president of the bank, the president of the company that makes 80% of the wrenches in Japan, the lecturer in the turtleneck and jacket (a Harvard professor, no less), and one guy my bosses didn`t know, but introduced himself to me to see what the hell I was about. I did turn a few heads. Shacho said that it looked like he and I were Pappa-san`s bodyguards. The introductions took about 40 minutes and two whiskeys.

I just so happen to notice that the silky girls kept busy. In a fascinating roll reversal they would mill around and just stand next to a cluster of business men to see if anyone needed drinkor food. If someone looked bored and alone, a silky would smile, and chat with them, and laugh at their jokes. Several times one would approach me and a president of something being introduced, wait a tasteful about of time for a nod or a look, and when none came she would move on.

Party was done at 7:00. At 6:50 a tap on the mike indicated some closing words. The words lasted 5 minutes. The room was clear by 6:59, silkies back into robot mode bowing and bidding arigato gozaimasu.


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